I was there-1955,56,57 Chevrolet

I was there


Harley Earl and Harlow Curtice

I was there...

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I joined GM Styling (now GM Design) in October 1952 after spending time at Fisher Body Trim and Hardware Styling and GM Manufacturing Development Staff (MDS). After graduating from Penn State in 1949 with a BSME, I wanted to become an Automobile Designer, but my career path remained in Engineering. Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen opened the door for me to GM Styling by introducing me to Harley Earl. I had done some custom car designs for Knudsen, who was the Director of MDS.

On this, my first day at GM Styling in 1952, I was given a tour of the facility at 465 West Milwaukee [Detroit] where we occupied floors eight through eleven. The eleventh floor housed the Executive Offices and the Auditorium. When we entered the Auditorium, I was blown away by the beauty of the two fiberglass models on display, a 1955 Chevrolet Sedan and an absolutely gorgeous 1955 Chevrolet Hardtop Coupe. The Coupe was shown in Gray and Salmon two tone exterior and interior and it was unforgettable.

1955 Chevy
The Chevrolet Studio team, who had created this 1955 model, consisted of Clare Mackichan - Chief Designer, Joe Schemansky - Assistant Chief Designer, Hans Hertia - Studio Engineer and Jack Parks - Chief Modeler. Bob Caderet was a Designer and Bill Tochman, a Blackboard Man. I also believe Bob Dieboll assisted Parks in modeling (Dieboll later created and sculpted the rear end of the 1958 Chevrolet while the Designers were at lunch).

The 1955 Chevrolet featured a "Ferrari Type" center grille design and this proved to be the weak point from a customer standpoint, as they did not relate to the heritage of Ferrari.

1956 Chevy
Shortly either before or after introduction of this 1955 model, Ed Cole, who I then believe was General Manager of Chevrolet (after he had been Chevrolet Chief Engineer and going on later to become President of GM) called MacKichan from Geneva, Switzerland and said he must have a new front end design for the 1956 model.

Mac and his staff did a remarkable job of designing this new front end in record time. New hood, front fenders, grille, bumpers and lights. Mac said later, "We extended the nose of the hood ornament 13 inches". After release from Styling, the model was in production in 9 months, unheard of today. The 1956 model was an immediate success in the marketplace.

1957 Chevy
As designing for the 1957 model year came into focus, there was an eerie concern at GM Styling. Ford would have an all new model for 1957 and Chevrolet would not be all new until 1958. How could a facelift 1957 Chevrolet compete with an all new 1957 Ford?

By this time, I had moved from the Experimental Engineering Department (where we did the engineering for the Motorama models) to Staff Assistant to Bob Lauer, Director of Engineering. In this position, I was privy to all of the high level meetings including those of Harley Earl, the legendary Vice President of Styling for GM.

By this time, Styling had moved from the location on Milwaukee in Detroit to a new, state of the art facility in the GM Technical Center in Warren Michigan

I distinctly remember the showing of the 1957 fiberglass model to Chevrolet management on the stage of the domed Auditorium. As Harley Earl walked around the model, he said in his stuttering voice, "We d-d-decided to put a little bit of C-C-Cadillac in this Chevrolet".

We all thought Earl and Mac had done the best they could with a carryover body, but none of us at that meeting had any idea of the Icon that had been created.

Not only did the 1957 Chevrolet hold its own against the competition, over the years it has become revered as the symbol of the best of that era.

In the summer of 2007, I drove downstate from my home in Traverse City, Michigan and joined my son Mark (also a long time GM Engineer) and we viewed dozens of these beautiful 1957 Chevrolet models on display at the GM Tech Center. It sure did bring back a lot of very fond memories.

Ken Pickering, February 2008
Retired 1989 as Executive Director, Engineering and Design Services, GM Design Staff

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